When I wrote my last post on FFXII, I didn’t realize I was pretty much at the end. I sat down thinking I had some game left to play, and 45 minutes later I was watching the closing credits. Whoops.
My final thoughts, now that I’ve seen it all:
I really liked how the combat took place within the gameworld, instead of cutting away to a “battle view” whenever combat starts. The battle view was one of the defining aspects of the series and I couldn’t imagine the game without it, but now that I’ve played this way I’m not sure I’d want to go back.
Gambits were a lot of fun to play with. Of course, I’m a programmer, and so I found the ability to control the AI for my characters to be deeply satisfying. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense within the game, but it makes the game fun to play. The idea is that the game lets you give each character a list of “gambits”. Each gambit has a condition and an action. So, if my first gambit has a condition of “Ally: health < 30%” and the action is “Heal”, then the character with this gambit will heal anyone in the party that has less than 30% of their hit points. If everyone has over 30% health, then that character will do the next gambit in the list. If that gambit has a condition of “Foe: nearest” and an action of “Attack”, then the character will attack any nearby enemies until someone drops below 30% health. Each time they take a turn they consider the gambit list, starting at the top, and look for something to do. You can set up some fairly robust systems for buffing between battles, emergency healing, and low-level post-combat healing. Some skill is involved in getting it all balanced out so that no one character’s magic points are overtaxed and so that everyone fights the right foes at the right time.
At first, I was disappointed at how short the game was. It takes about seventy hours for a normal run through FFX. I’m estimating, but I’ll bet I put about forty hours into FFXII. This made it seem like there was a lot less to FFXII, but after thinking about it I realize the game was just wasting less of my time. The elimination of the battle screen means that each battle isn’t prefaced with that pointless twenty second animation that began each encounter. The game also lets you skip cutscenes if you’ve seen them before. Sure, XII was thirty hours shorter, but I’ll bet twenty of that was fighting random battles and watching the opening battle animations. I spent less total time playing XII, but it didn’t waste the time I did put into it. That is a very worthwhile tradeoff in my book.
The repeated battles with Judge Gabranth are a good example of where the story goes all sideways. How many times did I “kill” that guy? Three? Four? Sometimes I’d kill him, walk ten steps, and there he was, at full health and ready to rumble. Then he’d crawl away, only to pop up in the next cutscene. When he finally did kick the bucket (and I should note, his death wasn’t caused by any of the beatings I gave him) I could tell it was supposed to be a dramatic moment, but it just seemed lame. The guy came back from total defeat so often it was clear that the only reason he was dying now was because the plot didn’t need him anymore. He was supposed to be this dark, dreadful figure in a mask – like Darth Vader – but I could never take him seriously. He was a punching bag. Oh? This guy? Again?!? It’s like fighting the Turks in Final Fantasy VII.
So the characters didn’t get much personality, and when their personalities did show was usually wooden or contrived. On the other hand the plot was good, but marred by the the clumsy history lesson at the start. Early in the game it looked like this was simply about a battle between two kingdoms. It was, but that battle was also a proxy war for larger, more interesting powers. This will never be my favorite Final Fantasy, but it ended stronger than it started.
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